A conversation with the Georgia-bred, North Carolina-based singer and guitarist Jake Xerxes Fussell.
“It’s hard to say what a song is after a while, it’s been through so many lives and incarnations. Is it a gospel song? Is it a nursery rhyme? I don’t know. Alan Lomax talked about that, about how songs had these lives over many generations. There’s a lot of stuff that’s both and neither at the same time. I think this might be one of those songs.”
In 1950, Lee Hays sent his siblings the first proof of his existence they’d had in more than a decade: baby-brother Lee, all three hundred pounds of him, harmonizing his deep, dark bass voice on a recording of “Goodnight, Irene,” the No. 1 hit in the nation. Lee was thirty-six, but his voice sounded old and smooth, and at the same time hard, exposed: an oak shivered open.